poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Christopher Smart was born on April 11, 1722 in Shipbourne, Kent, England. His father, a steward on the estate of Lord Vane, died when Smart was eleven. Smart attended the Durham School and was later educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge University, where he was well known for his Latin verses.

The Odes of Horace would remain influential throughout Smart's career; he translated The Works of Horace in 1756. After college, Smart earned a living in London editing and writing copy for periodicals and composing songs for the popular theater. During this time, he became known for his reckless drinking and spending habits; he was arrested for debt in 1747. In 1752 he published his first collection, Poems on Several Occasions, and married Anna Maria Carnan. They had two daughters.

In the 1750s Smart developed a form of religious mania that compelled him to continuous prayer. Samuel Johnson remarked, "My poor friend Smart showed the disturbance of his mind by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place." In 1756 he published Hymn to the Supreme Being, on Recovery from a Dangerous Fit of Illness. However, from that time onward, Smart was confined, with one brief Intermission, until 1763 in St. Luke's Hospital and then in Mr. Potter's Madhouse in Bethnal Green.

During his confinement he wrote what many see as his most original and lasting works—A Song to David, and the lengthy manuscript of Jubilate Agno. The last five years of Smart's life were marked by increasing debt and need; he was arrested again for debt in 1770 and died on May 21, 1771.

Smart is best known for A Song to David (1763), which praises the author of the Psalms as an archetype of the Divine poet. Although in its own time the poem was greeted largely with confusion, later poets such as Browning and Yeats would single out this poem for its affirmation of spirituality in an increasingly materialistic world.

In this respect Smart has been considered as a forerunner to poets such as John Clare and William Blake. Smart is also known for his distinctive and often anthologized homage to his cat, Jeoffry. This poem comes from the surviving fragments of Jubilate Agno, which was also written during his confinement but not published in a definitive edition until 1954.

The surviving fragments of Jubilate Agno are composed in a series of antiphonal verses beginning either with the word let or for. Smart envisions himself as "the Lord's News-Writer—the scribe-evangelist" spreading the Word. The poem is both a personal and philosophical diary and it presents an encyclopedic gathering of obscure lore, genealogy, and wordplay. Startling alterations of tone and juxtaposition of material as well as a careful attention to the quotidian energize Jubilate Agno.

Smart's work has captured the attention of contemporary artists such as Benjamin Britten, Allen Ginsberg, and Theodore Roethke.

Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]

Christopher Smart, 1722 - 1771
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary. 
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel 
            from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. 
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion. 
For he is of the Lord's poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry!
            poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better. 
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection. 
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the 
            bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

Lines 695-768 from Fragment B of Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart.

Lines 695-768 from Fragment B of Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart.

Christopher Smart

Christopher Smart

Christopher Smart was born on April 11, 1722 in Shipbourne, Kent, England.

by this poet

poem
Sublime—invention ever young,   
Of vast conception, tow'ring tongue   
    To God th' eternal theme;   
Notes from yon exaltations caught,   
Unrivall'd royalty of thought           
    O'er meaner strains supreme.   
  
His muse, bright angel of his verse,   
Gives balm for all the thorns that pierce,